How often a business continuity plan should be tested will vary based on a few important factors. Experts recommend you review your business continuity plan at least once a year; in addition, carry out a comprehensive review anytime something in the business changes (e.g. a process, product, service, etc.) or there is an external factor that may impact your business (e.g. environmental changes, new regulations, an acquisition, etc.).

A properly developed business continuity plan outlines in vivid detail every stage of a business’s response to certain risks that could impede business-as-usual. Regardless of what the risk or disruption might be, the right continuity plan can guarantee that your business minimizes downtime and gets back as quickly as possible, reducing the risk of lost revenue or reputation.

However, even the most detailed plan can become incompetent if it is not steadily tested. Regularly testing your business continuity plan also ensures that both you and your workforce can determine how best to approach an incident.

Businesses are known to contend with a wide range of threats: everything from a leaky roof to the loss of employees.  A thorough and properly developed business continuity plan ensures that the business has all the necessary tools to predict, prevent, and respond to risk properly.

The strategy also guarantees that the organization and its clients will remain operational with minimal to no downtime or threat to operations. Howbeit, putting together a thoroughly developed plan is half the battle.

The most important thing is to ensure that your business continuity strategy is viable, appropriate, and practical. Note that this is where testing your plan comes into play! Testing business continuity ensures that both you and your workforce can take a proactive, risk-based approach to your organization’s recovery.

Factors That Will Influence How Often a Business Continuity Plan Should Be Tested

Just as was noted above, there are critical factors that will influence or dictate how often your business continuity plan should be tested. These factors include;

  1. The Nature of Your Business

You need to understand that the nature of your business and the type of work your organization does will most definitely dictate how often you test your business continuity planning.

Have it in mind that heavily regulated industries such as healthcare and banking need to maintain compliance and regulatory standards; owing to that, frequent review of the business continuity plan is vital to ensure that all requirements will be met in the event of an outage or other disruption.

Companies that rely on complex supply chains will have to ensure their business continuity plan addresses dependencies, vulnerabilities, and changes that impeded continuity along the chain.

  1. The Size of Your Organization

Also, note that the size of your organization will determine how your business continuity plan will be tested and how often it should be reviewed. A large, multinational corporation will require a far more intensive continuity plan than a two-person startup.

Larger organizations will also have more complex business continuity plans as they involve more employees and facilities that are often spread over broader geographic areas. Meanwhile, small and mid-sized organizations can have complex plans since they require less frequent review.

  1. The Business Continuity Systems You Have in Place

How often your business continuity plan should be reviewed and tested will also depend on the type of technology your organization has in place.

A good number of organizations leverage business continuity tools that offer automated backup, high availability, and email archiving technologies that can be easily tracked via a central management console, thus reducing the need for frequent reviews. With these types of systems in place, the review process can be much easier and faster, reserving resources for other key business continuity duties.

Various Methods of Testing Business Continuity Plans

There are three notable ways of testing a business continuity plan. They include;

  1. Plan Review

This method is more like an audit of the business continuity plan. The team coupled with the c-level management or department heads all come together to re-evaluate the plan and to decide if any components are missing or need fortification.

When going through the plan they will have to ask certain key questions, such as does the business have the necessary resources to cope? Are copies of the plan available to key personnel? Do key personnel know what they are expected to do? Note that the aim here is not to find fault or assign blame, but to promote improvement, especially since it will make the plan more effective if the worst should happen.

  1. Simulation Test

This method involves the complete reassessment of business continuity procedures and tends to involve most, if not all, the stakeholders. This method of testing will also have to be carried out in the relevant business areas.

Have it in mind that each employee involved will have to physically show the steps and practice their roles and responsibilities during an emergency, such as an earthquake, hurricane, or active shooting. This could involve speeding to a backup location, making phone calls, completing communication templates, or visiting server rooms.

  1. Desktop Scenarios

This method of business continuity plan testing is a little more specific than the plan review method. By leveraging a scenario relevant to the business, this method can help businesses establish all the processes of their business’ response to a specific disruption. For instance, you can check the processes of your plan in the event of the loss of an employee.

Steps to Test a Business Continuity Plan

The frequency of testing your business continuity plan will depend on your company; below are detailed steps to help you carry out the process.

  1. Decide on the Method to Use

You have a business continuity plan already that is made up of all the necessary information, contingency locations, personnel, contacts, and service companies. The question is how do you intend to test the plan? For a desktop or a plan review exercise, you will have to ensure that key personnel or top management are available.

You will also need a venue, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be in a key location unless you are planning a simulation. For a simulation exercise, you will need a key location and the input of all employees and personnel.

  1. Determine the Time and Duration to Test the Plan

It is also important you stipulate how often the testing should be done and the duration each process should take. You should come up with a schedule for testing the plan and share it with your employees. Note that the time it takes to test a business continuity plan can range from one day to two weeks.

It can also take as little as three hours to evaluate the efficiency of the plan by monitoring employees’ responses and decision-making abilities, depending on the method and guidelines of the business continuity plan testing.

  1. Outline Objectives to Employees

Before the test, let everyone involved know of the testing plan coupled with the objectives of the testing. You will also need to ask some people within the team to record the test’s performance and any shortcomings that are noted. Walk through the tests with staff ahead of time so they understand what to expect and you can establish the review objectives up front and re-evaluate them as required.

  1. Document the Testing Process

Note that it is pertinent you document the results of any testing conducted, coupled with any actionable findings from those tests. Have it in mind that this will help your workforce note what can and should be improved, and envisage progress that’s been made.

Agreeably, implementation of these items and consolidating recommendations from tests is the most vital stage in the business continuity plan testing lifecycle. Testing, noting the results of your testing, and implementing methods to improve your business continuity plan is the most valid way to solidify your organization’s response processes.

  1. Update Your Business Continuity Plan

At this point, update the business continuity plan with any changes you must have noted, including new links and passwords, recovery team member changes, and shifts in priorities and business objectives.

After that, prepare and present a report to company leadership and stakeholders. Always remember that visibility is paramount to a successful recovery after a major disruption, so it is pertinent that everyone is informed about the changes and updates to the continuity plan.

Conclusion

Successful business continuity isn’t rocket science. Have it in mind that implementing a properly developed business continuity plan and then testing and updating the plan regularly is the only way to guarantee that your business applications are available when your users need them.

Have the plan tested and reviewed regularly, or at least quarterly. Bring together a team of individuals, heads of departments, and managers to discuss the plan. Remember to focus on the business continuity plan’s feasibility and explicitly note any areas where it might be fortified or updated.